How to create a social media strategy in 10 steps

We’re getting back to basics here, folks. How to build a new social media strategy!

After 9 years working in marketing, mostly focused on social media for big brands including PlayStation, NVIDIA, Salesforce, and Dropbox, I’ve had lots of amazing chances to refine my approach, and now I want to share it with you.

Here’s how to create a social media strategy in 10 steps:

1. Choose a target

Social is rife with opportunity. That’s a good thing because it means you have lots of different tactics you can try. It’s a bad thing because you can get caught in a trap that my colleague Jenny calls, a “splattergy” instead of strategy. You may have also heard it referred to as spray and pray.  If you’re dealing with small teams and limited resources, you should probably avoid spraying or splattering. Remember: focus is your best friend.

Choose a social media target

Questions to help guide you to a goal:

  • Do you want to use social to drive top of funnel awareness and buzz marketing?
  • Do you want to use social to help potential customers during their consideration phase?
  • Do you want to use social to drive leads, or website conversions?
  • Do you want to use social to help you with product engagement and user retention?
  • Do you want to use social to help you overcome support challenges?
  • Do you want to use social to enable users as advocates?

As you may have noticed, these questions are pretty closely aligned with a marketing funnel. In fact, these handy dandy diagrams expand on it a little further with example tactics and key performance indicators. (Apologies in advance for their less-than-amazing aesthetics 🙂

Pre-sale social media funnel:


Social media funnel

Post-sale social media funnel:

Post-sale social media funnel

Examples from other brands:

  • Awareness: Blendtec’s “will it blend” video series that’s quick, humorous and generally entertaining and shareable.
  • Lead gen: Marketo’s Facebook promoted posts that guide marketers towards ebooks/white papers with lead gen forms directly on facebook.
  • Product engagement: Oreo’s Snack Hacks YouTube videos. Sub-10 second videos that show you fun new ways to use oreos.

2. Audit

Much like the guys in Night at the Roxbury, when you first get into the social media club, you gotta check out the scene, put out the vibe.  Before you can really begin identifying tactics, you should analyze your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

Understanding the landscape for your existing social profiles (if you have any), your competitors’ social profiles, and, perhaps most importantly, aspirational brands’ social profiles, will help you define where your goal posts are.

Here’s a framework to guide your audit.

Screenshot 2015-09-02 11.42.29

3. Connect with your stakeholders

Social impacts many parts of a business. However, stakeholders in those departments might not even be aware or understand how social helps them. You likely report to a manager who cares about social, but there’s also a lot of value in building cross-functional relationships that you can leverage to increase social’s reach.

Do your best to identify the leaders, as well as the passionate individual contributors in those departments. Work with them to surface what metrics and tactics matter most, and then report out on those regularly. This will help build credibility for social within the organization, and raise your own profile as well.

Here are some of the teams you should reach out to, and how you can position social to them:

Clip art lives. find your social stakeholders.

  • Public relations and communications. While press are a way of influencing customers and decision-makers from the top down, social media is how you can influence them from the bottom up. And, increasingly, editors are looking to brands’ social media profiles for “official comments” from the company, in lieu of 1-1 media relationships.
  • Product marketing. Customers expect and want to be the first to know about new products and features. Social is a great way to get the word out, quickly. It’s also a great partner for any corporate blogs, where you may share longer-form announcements. Social is also an effective channel for collecting user feedback that can inform future product roadmaps and launch plans.
  • Executives. There’s usually at least one executive who’s either obsessed with using social media, personally, or has no idea how to use social media, but has an interest in learning more. It’s critical that executives understand and value social, otherwise, social programs risk being relegated to the “nice to have, but not necessary” bin. Do you best to find this person, and help them in any way you can. Whether it’s sprucing up their personal profiles, sending them ideas of content to share, or simply holding a brown bag where you walk through the state of the union in terms of how their brand is doing on social.
  • Customer support / user operations. Customers are coming to social for support. Many expect responses in less than 30 minutes. If your support organization doesn’t already have a dedicated social support program, you can share with them some metrics on the number of inbound support requests you receive on a weekly/monthly basis, the type of support requests, and maybe even a quick audit on the demographics of the users tweeting.
  • Design. A picture is worth a thousand words. And on social, I think there’s a 10x premium. For designers the benefit of working with social is immediate, direct exposure to customers, and the ability to test and change new assets. It’s much more fluid than putting content on static websites, so it offers an interesting outlet for new creative ideas.

4. Define your tone and personas

This can be one of the toughest parts of the social media program building. And, honestly, it should be a living breathing guide that evolves as your company does.  Usually when I’m developing tone and personas I ask myself, the brand, comms, and product marketing teams a few questions, that start with “If our brand were a person….”

Personas in action

  • How would we describe him/her?
  • Which platforms would he/she use on social?
  • Which links would we click in our newsfeed?
  • What kinds of friends would we have? Describe them.
  • What world topics do we care about?
  • What do we find funny?
  • What kinds of words do we use? Do we use contractions? Do we use slang?
  • How old are we?

In the end these questions will help you decide what kind of language you use, what type of opportunistic social activities you jump on (and which you don’t…I’m looking at you April Fool’s jokes).

5. Identify your audience

Understanding your audience is just as important as finding your own voice. You don’t want to be tone deaf to your target customers, so spend some time researching:

sample audience

  • What platforms do they use? Are they young adults on Snapchat, or are they seasoned professionals on LinkedIn. Are they hardcore topic experts on forums, or are they do it yourself-ers living on YouTube?
  • What are their needs and motivations? Are they looking for help and support? Or, are they looking for entertainment?
  • What other brands do they follow or engage with?

6. Choose your channels

This sort of maps up to your “choose a target” in step 1. Part of success in social is focusing on the social platforms where you can have big wins. That said, if your program is really far along, or you’re lucky enough to have limitless resources, then you might have the luxury of trying a bunch of new networks. For the rest of us, narrowing down presences and making the most of those profiles, is the best bet. Tips for picking the right platforms:

  1. Choose platforms that you know your fans are already on. While Pinterest is an incredible tool for fashion and home brands, it might not have the ROI for hardware tech companies.
  2. Choose the goal for each platform. Instagram is an incredible branding platform, but it might not be a great tool for driving leads or traffic, given its lack of hyperlinking (this is mainly for organic vs advertising). Facebook’s ever-changing newsfeed algorithm makes it extremely hard to reach fans, so it might not be the best tool for notifying them of new feature updates (low engagement leads to lower reach). Instead save it for big brand buzz moments on which you know you’ll get engagement. (Again, the caveat here is advertising – if you spend money you can reach more people)
  3. Spruce up your profiles. Ensure that you have a great profile picture, background images, up-to-date descriptions, links to relevant sites, and a plan in place to moderate and manage inbound feedback.
  4. Shut down rogue accounts.  More is not necessarily more on social. Creating multiple accounts can make it hard for your fans to understand what to follow, it can also create clutter in their feeds (if they’re following multiple feeds), and it dilute the overall brand power for any individual profile. Start with a small subset of profiles and then decide if you really need to spin up new accounts.

7. Plan content

So you’ve defined goals, personas, tone, and picked platforms, and tidied up profiles. Now you need to start adding fuel to the fire: content! Planning your content in advance (when possible) will help you keep the community engaged, and leave you the leeway you need to take action on opportunistic moments as they come up.create an editorial calendar

  • Choose how frequently you want to publish on each channel
  • Identify potential contributors (PR, Product Marketing, content team, etc). Establish a regular cadence for collecting their content.
  • Create an editorial calendar. So far, I’ve not seen any vendors that do this better than a shared spreadsheet. I usually include fields for date, content, links to assets, which profiles the content will go on, and owners.

8. Budget

Say it with me now: social media is no longer free. That’s right. For corporate social media to grow, you’ll likely need some money to help your ideas spread. Sure, you hear about things going viral organically, but those are few and far between, particularly when compared to the campaigns that are really well known as a result of concerted advertising efforts. While you may not have bags of money yet, it’s a good idea to set out a roadmap for your social investments. Here are some to consider:

Social media needs budget

  • Tools. We’ll dig into more detail on what tools you might want in step 9. Rest assured, you’re going to need some to help you scale and operationalize your social program. At a certain point using the consumer / free versions of tools isn’t enough.
  • Advertising. There’s a lot of competition online, sponsoring select posts can help you bubble to the top. Sponsored content also allows you to be much more selective about who sees your content, so you can gain traction with the right audiences. Especially when you’re just getting started, advertising can help you get in front of new fans.
  • Agencies. If you have a small team, without a new job req. on the horizon, you may also find yourself in need of agency support. I usually vote for in-house teams, but there are situations when you can’t get the headcount. I would advise keeping a close eye on your agency and providing them with very clear guidance on voice and tone, and ensuring that only senior members of the team have access to publish as your brand.

9. Pick your tools

This should be a blog post of its own. For now, here are 3 basic categories of tools you might want to explore:



  • Social media listening tools. There are millions of conversations happening across the web at all times. Listening tools help you make sense of all of that noise, and bubble up the conversations that are most relevant to you.
  • Social media reporting tools. If your SMMS doesn’t include robust reporting, you may want to acquire a tool or vendor who can. While this can be done manually, being able to automate measurement will give you time to focus on execution, and empower you with great content for internal stakeholders.
  • Social media management systems. AKA social media engagement tools. AKA social media publishing platforms. These are tools that help you operationalize publishing across multiple channels, provisioning access to multiple users, content planning, and usually light reporting. They also usually include engagement features that let you respond as your brand from a central dashboard. Managing all your profiles from their .com addresses is not just cumbersome, it’s also ripe with chances for mistakes. Save yourself the trouble and find an SMMS that works for you.


10. Prepare for the worst

Hope for the best. And when that fails, be prepared to handle whatever crisis comes your way. Social media has a funny way of being the first to know and the hardest hit when a crisis arises. Do yourself a favor and put together a plan, and socialize it with the right people so that you’re not on your heels. Some things you’ll want to clarify:

  • What’s the escalation path. Every business has some worst case scenarios in mind. Play those out for your company, and how you see them happening on social. Outline things like timelines (at 30 minutes we’ll do x. at 1 hour we’ll do y)
  • Who’s on the path. During crisis,  you don’t want to be on a social media island without stakeholders backing you up. Align yourself with legal, comms, and any other teams that make sense for you, so that they know what your escalation plan is, and integrate their feedback. Ensure you have phone numbers for things that occur in off-hours.
  • What actions can you take. When you’re working with stakeholders, plan some basic messaging you can use on social. Decide if your response is reactive only, or if you plan to issue public statements on social. Which profiles will those messages come from? Who will need to review new messages?

Now you’re ready to try this on your own!

Hopefully these tips help you get started (or add structure to an existing program). If you have comments or questions, drop them in the thread below. I’d love to hear from you 🙂



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